As fire burns, a reminder that we live in uncertainty

Friday, June 22, 2018 9:16 PM

We’re gathered for dinner in our hot house, closed up as a barrier against the smoke that fills the Animas Valley by night, creeping down from the 416 Fire like an escaped thief as we sleep. The air inside is stagnant, thick with our recycled grumpiness.

Our foster dog sneaks off with a shoe and my addled mind pits the cost of a mangled shoe against the benefit of 10 minutes of puppy distraction. The heat emitted from the light on the stove hood blares offensively, and kids’ limbs brushing against mine are like thorns, causing me to reflexively retract.

We’re watching for the moment the temperature outside dips a degree below the inside temperature, signaling the celebratory moment in which we can fling open every window, enjoying the cool mountain air before the smoke again comes rushing down valley.

Along with tracking outside temperatures, fire updates, air quality and weather forecasts, this fire is helping me track my own mind. How tethered it is to my current level of comfort. When temperatures and air toxicity are rising, I dwell in those apocalyptic corners where fear is whipped up like wildfire. It whispers: This is the new normal. Later, bathed in cool evening air, I’m filled with patience and reassurance: We’ll get through this.

I believe this fire is a result of climate change and a century of fire suppression; its goal is not to teach us a lesson, and yet, teachings are embedded in this event. We live in uncertainty, always. We forget this when life proceeds according to our plans. That jagged, expanding red line, noted on maps as “uncontrolled fire edge” represents the unknown we try to push away in our own lives. Buddhist nun Pema Chodron says, “We’re not actually in control, which is a pretty scary idea. But when you let things be as they are, you will be a much happier, more balanced, compassionate person.”

I’d love to sign up for the version of humanity that offers guarantees and certainty. And yet, parenting is the bottomless opportunity to be in the murky swirl of the unknown without letting it knock you down, at least not permanently. As my friend and fellow mother Claire says, “Sometimes, I just want to throw in the towel. But there is no towel!”

My kids have been trying to walk me through this concept for the past 13 years. I grasp to what I want; they torch it to flames. Col was unexpectedly born 3½ months early, as if offering initiation to the sleeping parts of me. I grow a paradise of vegetables, and the kids want carbs from a package. There have been concussions, job layoffs and just three weeks ago, our “newer” car breaking down en route to catch a plane in Denver.

Making friends with uncertainty isn’t a solution to fire, but it’s a solution to the internal suffering caused when we fight against what is already happening. I’m not advocating that we passively snooze while every corner of this Earth shows signs of changing. In fact, in acknowledging that change is here, and embodying flexibility and resiliency, we preserve our inner resources so we have more energy available to direct toward action that feels doable and effective.

After dinner, we take the foster pup to our neighborhood park, where neighbors stream out of houses, dogs parading onto the field, teenagers onto the swings. We are no longer strangers, now united by an event that reaches into every home in the county. Everyone has a story, an update, an anecdote illustrating courage and resilience.

Col is awed by the aircraft hurtling overhead. Dogs chase each other. The sun sets, but we linger, savoring the air that feels like life renewed, until darkness kicks us out and we all return home feeling a bit more connected.

Rachel Turiel teaches nonviolent communication to groups and individuals. Contact her at or check out her blog 6512andgrowing.